Relatively new to Southwest Georgia’s culinary scene, The American, located in Downtown Bainbridge, is quickly gaining the attention of avowed foodies. Case in point, Georgia’s “100 Plates Locals Love” named The American’s Heirloom Tomato Pie to its coveted list of food favorites. The pie, which is made in a cast ironed skillet, features blended cheeses and heirloom tomatoes baked in a flakey crust.
For owners Tyler and Heather Thomas, the accomplishment of opening a restaurant was years in the making. While living in Tallahassee, the couple made a happenstance visit to Bainbridge, which put their dream of opening a restaurant in motion.
Serving as the executive chef, Tyler describes The American as “experienced-based,” which includes a combination of atmosphere, service, hospitality, food, location, and presentation.
True to its name, the restaurant’s décor creates a historic vibe with variations of the Stars and Stripes and patriotic art adorning the exposed brick walls.
“Heather and I both grew up with great respect for America and what it represents,” Tyler says. “As we have collected artwork over the years, we’ve found some interesting pieces from the Colonial period and a few depicting our founding fathers.”
While sourcing ingredients from local and regional producers is a high priority, Tyler says it’s all about freshness and quality.
“First and foremost, the food has to taste great and be healthy,” he says. “And by healthy I believe in fresh and not frozen, made from scratch.”
Not to dismiss some southern favorites, Tyler says moderation is the key. “Of course, we are going to use some butter and sugar, but we also want our food to give vitality and not slow you down and cause health concerns.”
While it would be difficult to find a southern restaurant that omits sweet tea as a beverage option, Tyler says he has found a healthy solution. “With our sweet tea we brew dried fresh spearmint with the black tea leaves, this creates a sweeter taste, and then we don’t have to add as much sugar.”
All memorable meals need a great start, and at The American, there are plenty of options. While the Heirloom Tomato Pie, which features black truffle oil from Pecan Ridge Plantation in Bainbridge, is a popular choice, other crowd pleasers include the Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread, made with Georgia sweet corn, and Artisan Cheese Boards.
“The cheese boards have taken off,” says Tyler, who graduated from culinary school at Florida State University. “We use a selection of Asher Blue, Griffin, Green Hill and Thomasville Tomme from Sweet Grass Dairy,” which is a South Georgia’s cheese producers.
While the standard menu offers a selection of seafood, beef, and poultry, Tyler has also created specialty dishes that give a twist to some southern classics like the Cornbread Fried Chicken. Marinated in a little Creole and then finished off with a drizzle of honey sriracha glaze, gives this southern staple a little kick.
Gaining a regional reputation, Tyler has showcased his culinary skills and fondness for using locally grown products through Connect Dinner events. Sponsored by Eat Y’all, the dinners are held throughout the South, and pair chefs from different regions to create multi-course meals that showcase regionally-based farmers and producers.
Earlier this year, as a guest chef at the Union Public House in Pensacola, Florida, Tyler created beef carpaccio using Grady Ranch grass-fed New York strips, as one of five courses served at the dinner.
“I seared and then smoked the strips before shaving them very fine to make the carpaccio,” he explains. “Then I used Sweet Grass Dairy’s Thomasville Tomme cheese instead of parmesan.”
Tyler says the unique variation to the dish comes from the black garlic honey that is sourced from a farm in the panhandle. “With the black garlic added to the honey, it produces a savory beef that has a sweet and salty flavor.”
Having been invited to participate in two Connect Dinner events, Tyler says, he has gained an even greater appreciation for incorporating locally sourced products. “The dinners encourage the chefs to get to know their producers. I am discovering more of the farms in the area and looking for ways to incorporate their products on our menu.”